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Backyard Brains Welcomes Our Newest Interns, Chilean High School Seniors

Derek Arro

I am Derek Arro, a senior student at High School Alberto Blest Gana in Santiago, Chile. Currently, I have been working at Backyard Brains for 2 weeks, and I’m in charge of helping to write the manuscript for the experiments my team did with plant electrophysiology last semester. Backyard Brains is an incredible team that designs very educational and eye catching experiments.

Derek and Danae

In our case, we recorded the electrophysiology signals of various plants to a flame stimulus. To register the signal, we used the Backyard Brains Plant SpikerBox (amplifier) by wrapping a silver electrode covered with conductive gel around a branch and with a ground electrode connected to the…. ground. Our stimulus consisted of a flame applied to a leaf next to the silver electrode (see pictures above and below). Last semester, my classmates collected data on 14 different plants, from the famous Chilean Araucaria tree to normal basil herbs. We observed responses between 5-20 seconds after the flame stimulus in about 50% of our observations.  After that, we uploaded our data analyses in Google Colab. This model serves to allow more researchers more access to the data to make a catalog of physiology of plant electricity and projects for people who want to start something in science. 


High Schooler Named Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar for His Venus Flytrap Project w/ Plant SpikerBox

regeneron science talent search scholar venus flytrap

What’s the effect of our warming climate on Venus flytrap, a carnivorous, bloodthirsty (or shall we say fly-thirsty?) yet vulnerable plant? And how can we help preserve this amazing species? These questions were asked by 18-year-old Mulin Huan from Princeton High School in New Jersey, whose research project made it to top 300 high school seniors in this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search.

To examine the effect of temperature on the plant, Mulin measured the amplitudes of action potentials in 30 Venus Flytrap individuals using our Plant SpikerBox. A 5°C enviroment temperature makes for significantly lower amplitudes than the control 30°C and regular 40°C environments, his study shows. However, as the amplitudes decrease in the harsher environment, the plant’s maximum memory time between two hair stimuli that trigger its trap to close–goes up. That is, the plant tends to “remember” better!

venus flytrap action potentials amplitude
The average relative value of Venus’s action potentials
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Taiwanese Student Organizes Outreach

Neuroscience has a way of inspiring people from all walks of life. After all, we all have brains, no matter where we come from! This story comes to us from Taiwan, where Chiao-chi,Chou studies, a 21-year-old student and interactive installation artist in the Department of Communications Design of Shih Chien University. Chiao-chi discovered our products earlier this year, and they inspired her to create her own projects based on our Plant SpikerBox. She contacted us with a proposal to lead a workshop in a neighboring town in early November, teaching primary school children about the science of plant motion.

Chiao-chi grew up in an out-of-the-way village in central Taiwan, where her parents did plant research in the mountains. The educational resources there were relatively scarce, and when she found out about Backyard Brains, she immediately knew it was something she would’ve loved as a child: “Maybe I can go back to my elementary school to hold a workshop for bringing new knowledge to other children, like Backyard Brains bringing to me,” she thought, and started work on her project. “It is very meaningful for me to have this opportunity to bring educational resources home.”

Our Plant SpikerBox is one of the more interesting aspects of our collection, as the organism it works on doesn’t actually have a brain, but some plants move in response to stimulus the way that our bodies do. For her research, Chiao-chi expanded on the open-source nature of our design, “intend[ing] to extend the possibilities of the Plant SpikerBox. [What if] it allowed us to feel the perceptions of plant? If plant had the consciousness and how will we to perceive it? With setting various degree of bioelectrical potential patching on arm to simulate the different magnitude force press to the Mimosa, me and my partner would like to invite people to think the above questions.” Chiao-chi and her partner successfully designed, cut, and assembled their project, pictured below.

The models they created involved rock-cut wood that was assembled into two separate stereo models: one shaped like a human arm, and one like the stem of a plant, specifically the Sensitive Mimosa, both hinged at joint to mimic each other’s shape. “The arm model is controlled by two syringes to help students understand the antagonist muscle,” Chiao-chi said. “[The] mimosa model also uses the hydraulic principle to express the turgor movement.” In terms of the hardware, she built a green circuit board, modified according to the open-source circuit diagram for the Plant SpikerBox, and set up an oscilloscope on the board to allow viewers to see the waveforms of human and plant action potentials, just like the Plant SpikerBox. As seen below, the modified board was hooked up to both a plant and a person via electrodes. 

As excited as she was about her research, she wanted something else: to share her knowledge with other students. So, she proposed a plan to the local primary school teacher. She would plan and facilitate a workshop with primary school students, training a number of assistants prior to the event, and helping the students to build their own devices and do the experiment. Her proposal was eagerly accepted, and after weeks of preparation and training, the workshop occurred in early November! Eleven students were mentored through the process of building and performing experiments with her models and her designs based on the modified Plant SpikerBox. A simplified version of the one pictured above was utilized in the workshop, and students volunteered to hook themselves up to a plant and feel what happens when they stimulated it.

The event was a hit! She writes: “The workshop ended satisfactorily yesterday and the children actively participated in the event. I explained to the students the structure of muscle and mimosa in the morning, which mentions the role and difference of vacuole in animal cells and plant cells. At the stage of making the toys, we saw that they used the remaining wood to decorate the finished product. After the lunch break, we explain the basic electrical concepts and lead students to measure the micro-energy of plants. I also let the children use the modified Plant SpikerBox. [T]he children expressed their surprise at the new knowledge and complained about the bad lunch (because I ordered a lot of greens lol). All in all, we had a great time. The lovely students are also looking forward to the next event!”

Chiao-chi,Chou is currently applying to the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience of National Central University to continue her studies. We wish her all the best in her future neuroscience endeavors, and eagerly look forward to hearing about any future workshops she brings to fruition. Welcome to the NeuroRevolution, Chiao-chi,Chou, it is wonderful to have you here!

Let us know if you’d like some guidance on leading a Backyard Brains workshop in your town! Email us at hello@backyardbrains.com and pitch us some ideas! We’re always looking to spread the NeuroRevolution!